There were two types of runners in the world: those who did it for their health, and those who did it so they could brag about it to anyone who would listen. Okay, so there were probably some others thrown into the mix, like the family who thought it would be a good bonding experience until they realized they were paying money to get up at four in the morning and run. But generally, Kailani only encountered the first two.
Well, while she was at it, she figured she should add another category, the one where she fit in: the people who hated running with a burning passion but did it for the people they loved.
The grumbling family probably fit into that group too.
So there were three types of runners in the world: those who did it for their health, those who hated it but did it for their loved ones, and the worst group of all.
Those who did it to inflate their own egos.
Kailani first saw the meathead when she was crossing the parking lot to the start of the course. He’d been pretty hard to miss, massive as he was, and that smirk of his was seared into her brain. She’d seen it once before, when he hit on her at her favorite climbing gym, and she had hoped to never see him again.
Fate was not on her side, and he’d nearly walked right into her a few minutes later when she was stretching.
“Hey,” he’d said in his deep voice.
She’d ignored him, pretending she couldn’t hear him over her music despite her ear buds playing absolutely nothing at the time, and she had walked away without giving him a passing glance.
Now, however, he was talking to one of the sponsors, which was exactly why Kailani had come over this way in the first place. The race was about to start, and she had a short window in which to talk to this particular sponsor, The Healing Well. It was the whole reason she was here. Well, that, and she’d promised Isla she would do the race.
Her sister had no real reason to want Kailani here, but she’d begged Kailani to promise she would race. Something about it projecting a good image. And Kailani, being the sucker that she was, hadn’t been able to say no. Only after she’d realized The Healing Well was one of the sponsors did she have any real desire to show up. Maybe Isla had known they would be one of the sponsors…
Kailani shuffled a little closer to the booth, bouncing on the balls of her feet to keep her legs limber. Isla could pretend all she wanted that she had no idea how business worked, but she kept doing things that completely contradicted that idea. That girl was going places.
Kailani, on the other hand, was stuck watching Meathead do his thing because he was standing exactly where she wanted to be.
He seemed to be charming the pants off the girl at the Healing Well booth, leaning on the table and giving her a seductive look that had probably worked for him so many times. The girl, to Kailani’s disgust, was clearly into it, as if a well-formed pectoral was all a guy needed to recommend himself.
Honestly, it was remarkable anyone could see anything beyond his ego.
“I’d love to keep talking,” Meathead said, “but I think the race is about to start, so I’d better skedaddle.”
Skedaddle? Who even used that word anymore?
“Can I convince you to share a free banana and granola bar with me after the race? My treat.”
The girl giggled.
For a guy with so much muscle mass, he moved quick, spinning around and turning red as if he hadn’t expected anyone to be nearby.
Kailani raised an eyebrow. “Are you done?”
He glanced at the girl, who bit her lip as if she’d been caught doing something wrong. It wasn’t her fault. She was young, and guys like Meathead had a habit of preying on the weak and vulnerable. For all their time spent building muscle, they never seemed to want an actual challenge.
“Hi,” Meathead said, and then he clenched his jaw so hard the muscle by his ear bulged. “I know you, right?”
If she looked familiar at all to him, she knew he wouldn’t remember where they’d met. He probably spoke to anything that breathed, and she was just one of hundreds. Rolling her eyes, Kailani turned to ask the Healing Well girl if they could talk after the race.
“The climbing wall.”
“My friend and I were sitting beneath the bouldering wall, and we were in your way.”
She looked back, surprised to see an apologetic expression. She certainly hadn’t expected recognition let alone repentance.
“I was an idiot,” he added, and he threw in a smile that only climbed half his face.
Kailani had always been a sucker for a crooked smile, especially when it accompanied humility. Though the announcer had started pumping up the racers and getting them ready, Kailani shifted just a little closer to the gym rat, curious to know what he would say if she let him keep talking. This was a much better encounter than the last one, when she’d been amazed his head could hold such a big ego. Not so big, apparently…
With his smile still intact, he ducked his head and took several steps away from the booth. Probably so the Healing Well girl wouldn’t be privy to their entire conversation. Kailani followed, too curious not to. “It’s a curse,” he said. “No matter what I do, I always get flustered around beautiful women, and I turn into a…a…”
“A tool?” she supplied, hating that his little compliment got to her.
He nodded, back to clenching his jaw.
And Kailani’s heart softened a little because he looked so worried about what she thought of him. “You’re trying not to say anything stupid right now, aren’t you?” Another nod made her laugh, and she folded her arms as she examined him a little more closely. Maybe there was more to this meathead than muscle (of which he had a whole lot).
“I’m Kailani,” she said, holding out her hand.
His smile morphed into a white-toothed grin that caught Kailani off guard. Wow, he was handsome. With his muscle definition and bronze skin, he was undeniably attractive.
“Cam,” he said, but he didn’t take her hand. Instead, he offered a fist bump.
Kailani raised an eyebrow.
“I’m, uh, careful about where I put my hands.” His eyes went wide. “I did not mean that how it sounded. I mean, I don’t take just anyone’s—no.” He blew out all of his breath, then ran both hands through his thick, dark hair. “Such an idiot,” he mumbled under his breath.
As she stood there biting her lip to keep from laughing, Kailani was really enjoying this man’s bumbling. He definitely wasn’t what she’d expected, and she was curious to know more. Was Cam the jerk at the climbing gym, or this bumbling babbler who really packed a punch with that genuine smile of his?
“Tell you what,” she said, and he snapped to attention. It wouldn’t hurt to put him to the test. “If you can keep up with me for the next thirteen miles, I’ll buy you free fruit and granola.”
“Thirteen point one,” he said, and then he slapped a palm to his face. “Sorry. I know what you meant. Yes, I’d… Yeah.”
When the start gun fired into the air a second later, Kailani patted Cam’s impressive tricep and took off running, refusing to look behind her to see if he was following her. If he was truly attracted to her and wanted to get to know her, he’d catch up.
She almost hoped he did.
Cam hated running. He hated it with a fiery, burning passion. The only reason he was even here was because he’d made a bet with his friend Oliver, who thought he couldn’t make it past mile five before he collapsed, and Cam was determined to prove him wrong. How hard could a half-marathon be, anyway?
If the likes of Oliver Hamilton could run a race like this, anyone could. The guy put the bare minimum effort into everything he did.
The problem was it was only mile three, and Oliver had long-ago disappeared up with the race leaders despite breaking his foot eight months ago. Cam hated to admit it, but there was a slight chance the man was genuinely good at running. And Cam hated that. Especially because his lungs were burning, and he was pretty sure he sounded like a dying horse as he wheezed along. He hadn’t done continuous cardio since high school, and his inability to keep up with the bulk of the runners was making that painfully obvious.
That’s not to say he didn’t try. He could still see the back of Kailani’s head, and the fact that the woman had even given him a chance was quite the motivator to keep him moving forward. It may have been three months since he saw her at the climbing gym, but he hadn’t been able to get her out of his head. Seeing her in the parking lot this morning had completely disarmed him.
“What’s wrong with you?” Oliver had asked when Cam went stiff.
Cam had kept his mouth shut in case he accidentally told Oliver everything.
He liked to think the fact that he and the incredibly attractive Kailani were both running the same race on a late January morning was a gift of fate. For once, something had gone his way, and he was not about to mess this up.
He had to catch up to her first, though.
Clearly a natural runner, Kailani hadn’t slowed down even once since the start of the race. Though she remained fairly middle ground in terms of placement, she was more consistent than anyone Cam had ever seen. He’d been watching her long brown ponytail swish back and forth for the last half an hour, and other runners had passed her and been passed by her. Kailani hadn’t given them a moment’s notice, and she’d kept her eyes fixed ahead.
Cam would catch up to her eventually. He had to. Watching her from behind—as enjoyable as it was—was nothing compared to actually talking to her. Seeing her smile. Hearing her laugh. If he wanted a chance to get to know this girl, he had to pick up his pace and close the distance between them.
His legs protested the push as he forced himself faster. Somehow, his lungs burned even more. But with every second, he was gaining ground, and he repeated the mantra of “body over mind” again and again, telling himself that his only limitations were the ones he put on himself.
“Hi,” he gasped when he reached her side.
Next thing he knew, he was looking up at Kailani from the ground, his head spinning and his tongue feeling like cotton in his mouth.
“Welcome back,” she said. Her voice was low and soothing, her dark eyes kind, and Cam became distinctly aware of the warmth of her fingers resting on his arm. Even through the smooth fabric of his athletic shirt.
“Back?” he asked. Brushing a hand through his hair to push it back from his forehead, he grimaced when his fingers came back dripping with sweat. He was simultaneously burning and frozen, the cold seeping into his back from the pavement where he lay. “What…?”
She smiled, but it was the kind of smile that meant she felt sorry for him. Cam hated that smile. “You fainted.”
He groaned. “You could at least say ‘passed out’ so I don’t sound completely pathetic,” he muttered as he struggled to sit up. Dizziness threatened to knock him back down, and he paused for a second, taking some deep breaths. “How long was I out?” There weren’t any other racers around, but with the sky gray with low clouds, it was impossible to know how much time had passed.
Kailani’s smile twisted a little, giving way to some genuine amusement that Cam would have appreciated if he hadn’t been the source of it. “Just a couple of minutes,” she told him. “Did you eat enough breakfast this morning? I know some beginners tend to go too light before a race.”
Not that Cam was checking her out—he totally was—but she had the muscle definition and lean frame that came from good nutrition and an active lifestyle. The fact that she’d asked that question without sounding condescending made him like her all the more, but he didn’t want her to think he was totally clueless.
“I forgot to increase my carb intake,” he grunted, wiping his sticky forehead with his sleeve. “And I didn’t get a chance to do any endurance training.”
She cocked her head. “So why are you here?”
“Because I want to drive the Benz.” Cam clenched his jaw. “I mean, I want to beat Oliver. I mean—”
She snickered, sitting back on her heels and folding her arms. “You were forced into it too?”
Cam breathed a sigh of relief. “I don’t like to back down from a challenge,” he said. “My friend promised I could drive his car if I did the race with him. It’s a nice car. What’s your excuse?”
“Promised my sister.” The answer came with a shrug. “Truth be told, I kind of hate running.”
“Oh, thank goodness.” He smacked his face with his palm. Why, oh why, did he have to say everything that came to his head? It didn’t help that she was completely stunning, with her golden-brown skin and eyes so dark they were almost black, and then there was the whole fit and athletic thing. He was desperate to impress her, and that meant his tongue was determined to take the lead.
Giving her a sheepish smile, he hoped he could wipe that confused look off her face. “I turn into an idiot around pretty girls, remember? Even more of an idiot around ones that intimidate me.” And if he could just lie down and die of embarrassment right now, that would be great.
For some reason, Kailani smiled. “I intimidate you?”
“No.” He cringed, his stomach churning and threatening to launch his protein-heavy breakfast onto the ground next to him. “Yes.” His stomach settled, but only marginally, as if it knew he might try to lie again.
She couldn’t seem to decide what to make of him, and he hoped that was a good sign. True, he knew nothing about her, but she seemed entirely perfect. He refused to let her go without at least trying, knowing he would probably never find another girl like her.
“You didn’t have to hang around,” he said, wincing as he examined a scrape on his arm that had just begun stinging like crazy thanks to the bits of asphalt lodged in his skin. A nice hole had torn through the brand-new shirt. “But thanks.”
She grinned. “Well, technically you fell right into me, so you seemed to want me around.”
That was when Cam saw the hole in the knee of her leggings, and his stomach dropped. “You’re bleeding!” Without thinking, he grabbed her leg and tugged, knocking her backward and twisting her into a ridiculous position because the other leg was still folded beneath her. He cursed as she landed on her elbows, and then he scrambled forward to scoop her up before he injured her further.
Only when she was safely cradled in his arms, one arm around her back and the other tucked behind her knees, did he stop moving, freezing as he knelt on two equally scraped up knees that did not appreciate holding his weight.
“Sorry,” he whispered, waiting for her to fly out of his arms and take off running. She didn’t move, staring at him with wide eyes and an expression that was either terror or complete panic. He wasn’t sure which. “Um. How’s your knee?”
Her eyes flicked down to the knee in question. “I hadn’t noticed it,” she said, a little breathless. She was probably terrified and waiting for him to have his way with her on the trail or something.
His arms started to shake at the idea of anyone being afraid of him, especially her.
She noticed the trembling, her eyebrows pulling low. “You can put me down. I weigh more than I—”
“You’re not heavy,” he blurted, and instinctively he pulled her a little closer, though that didn’t stop the shaking. “I’m just worried that I really hurt you.” If anyone was heavy, he was, and she’d said he fell right into her when he fainted—passed out. Had he landed on her?
Smiling a little, she shook her head. “I’m fine. I’m just glad I was able to catch you so you didn’t get more hurt.”
“You caught me?” Was this girl for real?
“Well, I slowed your fall. You are kind of huge.”
Cam chuckled, his arms feeling steadier the longer he held her. Despite actively building muscle on a daily basis, he didn’t usually like people pointing out his size. But she seemed to appreciate it. “I guess I should thank you for that. And I really am sorry.”
Her eyes burned with something new, making Cam wonder what emotion fueled that fire. When she pressed a hand to his chest, the fire jumped over to where she touched, burning hot and steady. “I’m not. You can fall into me anytime.”
His heart stumbled in his chest, which was probably an early warning sign of a heart attack. He didn’t care, not with the way Kailani was looking at him. “Only if it means I get to hold you again,” he said.
Her full lips parted with a little gasp. “I’d be okay with that,” she whispered, lifting her mouth closer.
“You guys okay?”
The sound of an unfamiliar voice startled Cam so much that he nearly dumped Kailani onto the ground. Cursing under his breath—he really hated getting startled—he gently set her on the pavement and did his best to ignore the way she seemed about to laugh.
The poor race volunteer was so red in the face, he was probably in danger of his own heart attack. “Someone said there were a couple of injuries. But it looks like you’re…”
Kailani grinned as she hopped to her feet. “I’m fine. Cam is the one who fainted.”
“Passed out,” Cam corrected, though he was quickly realizing that didn’t sound much better. He wasn’t nearly as lithe as he slowly made his way upright, every limb protesting.
“Need to hop in the golf cart?” The volunteer glanced between them.
The last thing Cam needed was Oliver finding out he’d been carted back to the start line. He bent his legs, testing the resilience of his still-weak knees. “I can walk,” he decided out loud, though he was eager to get into the steam room at his gym to soothe the ache that was building all over his body. He must have fallen hard.
And Kailani had taken the brunt of that fall.
“I’m sorry for ruining the race,” he told her, knowing that apology hardly covered it.
She flashed a brilliant smile. “Don’t be. I’d rather rescue you than spend the next hour and a half stuck running.”
Cam nearly fainted again. Passed out. “Wait, that’s how long it takes to run a half marathon?”
She grimaced. “Terrible, right? And with how pale you look, I think you need someone to escort you back to the parking lot in case you fa—pass out again. I’d be happy to walk back with you.”
The volunteer gestured toward the golf cart waiting behind him. “I can—”
“That’s incredibly kind of you,” Cam said to Kailani, smiling despite the pain. She genuinely seemed to want to walk with him, and he definitely wanted that to happen. “It might be a long five miles back, though,” he warned, just in case she hadn’t thought through what she had offered.
“I’m counting on it.”
“Really?” Cam almost slapped himself. If he would stop questioning everything, maybe something might actually come of this unfortunate incident. And as the volunteer drove off, leaving them behind, he hoped Kailani didn’t take his question as wanting her to go on without him. Otherwise, he wasn’t sure he would make it back.
Chuckling, Kailani nodded and grabbed Cam’s arm, slinging it over her shoulder so they could start walking. “How else am I going to get to know you?”
Beautiful, strong, and confident. Cam was pretty much in love.
“So,” he said, hoping he didn’t make a fool of himself as he tried to find a conversation starter. “Kailani. Is that Hawaiian?”
“Yep. I was born there. Dad went for the surf, stayed for my mom.”
“What brought you to Diamond Springs?”
She seemed to think about that, like she wasn’t sure how to answer. “When I was twelve, my parents came back to look after my grandparents when they got old. So here we are.”
“Do you ever think of going back?” Please say no. Although, Cam wouldn’t mind the excuse to take a trip to Hawaii to see her. Not that he could afford it.
Kailani thought over that question as well, her eyes distant. “Sometimes,” she admitted. “I miss surfing, especially. But my family is here, and my parents need…” She shook her head. “You don’t need to know all my drama.”
“I would love to know your drama.” He coughed. “I mean, only if you need a listening ear.”
She smiled, and the expression lit up her whole face. Cam had never met anyone so expressive, and that was saying something. His friends were definite characters. It probably came with the territory of calling themselves the “Wonder Boys,” a name courtesy of their shared little sister, Madi.
Well, she wasn’t Oliver’s adopted sister anymore. Now she was his wife, and that still threw Cam for a loop sometimes. He’d always figured they would all stay single forever, given how long it had taken Oliver to finally commit to something. Ben wasn’t far behind on the whole marriage thing, from the looks of it. Cam just had to hope his best friend, Kit, didn’t suddenly decide to break character and make a life change again.
If Kit decided to start dating, that would leave Cam entirely on his own.
A shudder ran through him at the thought, his heart rate picking up speed.
“You okay?” Kailani paused and put her hand on his chest.
The physical pain had dulled, but Cam’s vision tunneled a bit as his chest grew tight, so he shook his head. “I just need to sit down for a second,” he said. Nausea bubbled up into his stomach, and he hoped that was just from the dizziness. Not because he was lying. The loneliness and fear would pass, like it always did when he inadvertently thought about being left behind.
Kailani led him to the side of the path, where a fallen log provided a decent place to sit. Once he’d settled, she sat close enough that their arms pressed together. “I take it you don’t do much running,” she said.
That wasn’t the problem, but he decided to run with the topic. “My focus is high intensity interval training, not marathons.”
“Technically it’s a half-marathon.”
“I know it’s—” He cut himself off when he saw her smile. She was teasing him. That had to be a good sign, right? He chanced a grin back at her and was pleased when she blushed a little. He’d never had Oliver’s and Ben’s skills with women, and he’d never understood how they could steal hearts with only a smile.
Maybe he’d just been smiling at the wrong people. All of his past girlfriends had taken some time to warm up to him, and none of them had ever lasted long. Not that he’d been surprised by that.
“You’d think I would have learned by now to do more cardio,” he muttered, still grinning. “But at least my embarrassment gave me a chance to sit next to you.”
“Oh, is that why you fainted?”
“Still out cold on the ground.”
Chuckling, Cam bumped his shoulder into hers as gently as he could, though it still knocked her over a couple of inches. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever passed out from exercise,” he said. Which, honestly, surprised him. Some days he pushed himself so hard that his body should have given out long before now.
Her eyebrows pulled low, and she seemed to look him over for a second. “Does that mean you’ve passed out for other reasons? How often do you fall on top of unsuspecting women?”
Since he definitely wasn’t about to admit anything that alluded to his anxiety getting the best of him or fists knocking him out cold back when he used to get into a lot of fights, Cam opted for another joke. It would keep things light and easy, and hopefully it would give him a reason to stop thinking about unknown situations and focus on the moment. “I save that move for the extra special ones.”
Blushing again, she gave him an impressive shove. “So why did you waste it on me? You could have saved yourself so much pain, and I probably would have walked with you anyway.”
Cam couldn’t help but grin at her as they sat there watching each other, like his full attention had been locked onto her with no chance of deviation. He knew next to nothing about this girl, and yet he was convinced he’d been made to be at her side. Like this, forever. Though, maybe without the after-effects of passing out…
“Are you ready to walk again?” she asked, a bit of laughter in her voice as her eyes traced his face. He had no idea what was in his expression, but he knew any chance of being calm and cool was out the window.
He nodded, not as confidently as he’d like. His knees already felt stiffer than they’d been a minute ago. “I’m seriously embarrassed about all of this,” he muttered as he struggled to his feet. “How am I supposed to impress you when I make a fool of myself every time we meet?”
To his immense pleasure, Kailani tucked herself under his arm again as they set off down the tree-lined path. “Maybe you just need more chances. I definitely like you better today than I did the first time we met.”
He cringed. They’d met at the climbing gym, and something had broken in his brain the moment he saw her rhomboids. Back muscles like that should have been outlawed. “Have I apologized yet for being a tool?” He had gone all macho and hit on her, and he felt sick just thinking about it. “I promise I’m not usually like that. Just when I’m around strong, beautiful women who scare the crap out of me.”
Her laugh sent a thrill through him. “You are surprisingly refreshing, Cam,” she said.
“Is that a good thing?”
“I guess we’ll see.”
“Think you can forgive me, at least?”
She laced her fingers through his at her shoulder, her dark eyes twinkling with what Cam hoped was affection as she gazed at him. “I can definitely do that. If you can forgive me for automatically thinking the worst of you.”
They spent the rest of the walk back to the starting line talking about anything and everything. Kailani was open and confident, and she was easy to talk to because they had so many similar interests. And for the first time in his life, Cam didn’t spend the entire conversation thinking about what he might say wrong. He didn’t imagine her getting tired of him and leaving him on the side of the road so she could finish her run.
He was simply there. Fully in the present and enjoying every minute of it.
He didn’t want it to end.
A quick trip to the first aid tent and several bandages later, Kailani grabbed a couple granola bars and joined Cam on the small patch of dead grass that lay next to the parking lot. Cam had said he would have to wait for his friend, and he practically begged her to stay with him to soften the embarrassment that would come from admitting what had happened.
The fact that he so openly expressed his fear had Kailani’s heart twisting into knots. She’d never met anyone so honest, and if a big strong guy like Cam could talk about how much he didn’t like being teased for anything physical, something had to be wrong with the rest of the world. Everyone else always had something to hide.
Cam didn’t, and Kailani wasn’t sure how to feel about the thudding in her chest that got stronger every time he smiled at her. Despite avoiding any personal topics, she’d been more open with him than she was used to, mostly because she figured she would never see him again. But her heart seemed to be telling her she wanted to see him, and that complicated things.
It was his fault. She’d spent the whole race—the five miles of it she’d actually done, anyway—forcing herself not to look back and see if he was there. Even without turning, she somehow knew he was right behind her until the moment he caught up to her and immediately passed out. The poor guy clearly wasn’t built to run, but he’d put in full effort to do as she’d asked and catch up. That alone had made her want to get to know him better, and then the walk back had convinced her he was absolutely worth knowing.
“I know I said otherwise, but you know you don’t have to keep hanging out with me, right?” he said as she handed him a granola bar and sat beside him. “You brought me back safe and sound. I can’t ask you for more than that.”
She grinned, loving the way his eyes squinted as he waited for her to up and leave. “I want to stay.” Truthfully, she probably should go talk to the girl at the Healing Well before the booth got crowded by finished racers, but the last hour had been one of her better hours in a long time.
All thanks to the guy next to her. Though neither had really shared anything personal, they’d talked about so many different topics that no one could argue they didn’t get along. In fact, she’d never connected so easily with anyone, and that had to mean something.
Then there was his body.
As he leaned back on his hands and stretched out his legs, Cam put his muscles on full display beneath his polyester blend. She’d gotten up close and personal with a lot of him when he’d passed out, but now she had a great chance to take him all in without worrying about him hitting his head on the pavement. Every inch of him looked sculpted from stone, from his trapezius to his calves, yet he didn’t look like those guys who tried to get as big as they possibly could until they looked disproportionate and unable to wear anything with sleeves.
Cam simply looked strong. Like he understood the balance between working out and living life. He looked like he could take on any challenge with a smile and never back down because he had the strength to meet it.
He looked like the kind of guy who could handle a little chaos, and that was exactly the kind of guy Kailani needed.
“You’re staring at me.”
Heat rushed into Kailani’s face, and she forced her eyes away. It wasn’t easy. “Sorry!”
“I don’t mind.”
Peeking back at him, Kailani narrowed her eyes when she saw his easy smile. “I can’t tell if that’s you being egotistical or if you really don’t care.”
He shrugged. “I’m a personal trainer, and for a while my clientele was full of women. I’ve gotten used to people staring.” He lifted the hem of his shirt, giving Kailani a clear and breathtaking view of his abs. So many abs. “These tend to be a favorite.”
She could see why. Even being around gym rats all day every day hadn’t desensitized Kailani’s appreciation for a good oblique. Brushing her mouth to make sure she wasn’t drooling, she shrugged as if she didn’t want to admire this man’s body all day every day.
“How do you say things like that and not sound like a total jerk?” she asked. Anyone else, and she would have left by now.
Cam chuckled. “Probably because you actually know what a latissimus dorsi muscle is. And you’ve seen me pass out because I’m awful at running.” He leaned his head a little closer. “And you can probably beat me in an arm wrestle, so there’s no point in me showing off.”
With the size of Cam’s biceps, that definitely wasn’t true, but Kailani appreciated the praise all the same. She liked to consider herself strong, but it wasn’t always obvious from the outside.
Fighting her smile, she moved her own head closer until their foreheads touched. She couldn’t help it; something about him just pulled her in. “I don’t normally do this,” she breathed.
He didn’t seem to breathe at all. “Do what? Kiss a guy you just met? I mean, not that I was assuming anything. I wasn’t thinking about kissing you. I—” Suddenly he was gone, leaning over to his other side as he vomited onto the grass.
She felt bad for the guy, of course she did, but she was more disappointed than anything. With how well he’d mastered the rest of his body, Cam was probably a great kisser.
“Sorry,” he moaned, his whole body shaking as he sat back up. “That was—”
“What happened to you?” a new voice asked.
Both of them looked up at the runner who had just arrived and stood there watching the two of them.
“Did you even run?” the stranger asked Cam, one eyebrow rising.
Looking ready to strangle the guy, Cam struggled to his feet. “I had a mishap.”
The guy snorted, probably a little too entertained by the idea of something happening to his friend. “What kind of mishap?” His eyes jumped back to Kailani, making her feel accused of something she didn’t do.
She definitely didn’t like this guy.
She hopped to her feet, if only to get to an even playing field. Sure, Cam’s friend had been among the first to come back to the starting line, but he only had superficial muscle. He probably ran more than anything and wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight. Not that fighting was a good idea. But if he was friends with Cam, surely he felt inadequate often enough to know it was a bad idea to push things too far.
And poor Cam still looked sick to his stomach, as if he knew the teasing wouldn’t stop anytime soon.
“He was helping me,” Kailani said loudly, pulling both men’s attention back to her. “I ended up on the ground, and Cam was nice enough to walk back with me.” It wasn’t technically a lie.
Cam’s smile might have been worth a lie, with the way he grinned at her now. “I did walk back with her,” he agreed, perhaps a little unnecessarily. “Oliver, ready to—”
“How did she end up on the ground?” the guy—Oliver—asked Cam, laughter in his voice.
Before Kailani could come up with a strategic answer, Cam said, “I fell into her. I mean—”
“You tripped?” Oliver asked.
Again, Cam spoke too quickly. “Fainted.” His eyes went wide. “No, I didn’t—” He turned and threw up again, shaking hands pressed to his knees.
And Oliver laughed. Kailani now officially hated the man and couldn’t help but wonder why Cam considered him a friend.
“Has someone been telling lies, Cam Ma—”
Cam was up in an instant, wrapping Oliver in a headlock and tucking him under his side. “If you don’t stop talking right now,” he warned, and then his eyes found Kailani. “I’m so sorry,” he said, though she didn’t know what, specifically, he was apologizing for. “I should probably go. But it was nice to meet you. Officially.”
He stood there for a moment, Oliver still tucked under his arm. (Apparently Oliver was smart enough to realize there was no point in him fighting.) Was he waiting for something? Kailani hadn’t dated nearly enough to know how to ask him for his number before she had to go another few months before she saw Cam again. If she saw Cam again.
“Can I—” she said at the same time Cam said, “Maybe I could—”
They both stopped, grinned, and then Kailani, who must have been possessed by someone far more daring than her, reached forward and grabbed his phone from the hidden pocket on his waistband, poorly ignoring how close her hands came to all of his impressive muscle. Then she shoved the phone in his face to unlock the cracked screen and typed out a text to herself. Sending it, she waited for the buzz on her arm before she put the phone back in his pocket.
“Just in case,” she said, though she wasn’t sure what to make of the wide-eyed expression on Cam’s face.
At least, she didn’t understand it until she realized her hand had strayed from his waistband to his stomach, where each of his six glorious abs had shown up for roll call beneath her fingers. She’d gone under his shirt, straight for his skin like a creep.
Even Oliver was staring at her, and her face burned as she took a step back. Maybe the distance would be a good idea.
But Cam dropped Oliver, who landed with an oof, and crossed the small space between them. As much as she wanted to kiss the guy, she was glad he left a lingering kiss on her cheek and not her mouth, what with all the vomit and everything. But if the heat that shot through her was her body’s reaction to a kiss on the cheek, she couldn’t wait to see what a real kiss would feel like.
“See you around,” he said, his voice low and husky, and then he was gone, leaving Kailani reeling with a stunned Oliver on the ground next to her.
“Where in the world did that come from?” Oliver asked, as if he’d never seen his friend with so much game before.
Kailani hoped that was the case. She hoped she was the first person to ever get under that man’s skin, because she didn’t want to share him with anyone else. She wanted him—and that crooked smile he threw back at her as he walked away—all to herself.